Research Department: Pharmacology
Graduation Date: May 2018
Abstract: Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite of the apicomplexan phylum and infects all warm-blooded animals. Approximately 11% of the US population is infected with Toxoplasma. Severe cases typically arise due to weak immune systems. To survive in the host cell, Toxoplasma interprets signals across multiple membranes, including the parasitophorous vacuole and the parasite membrane. In eukaryotes, the Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase (MAPK) cascade is used to transduce extracellular signals. The activity of these kinases governs the regulation of the signaling pathway and is conserved in Eukarya. However, this MAPK cascade is absent in Toxoplasma gondii. The Toxoplasma genome encodes three putative MAPKs: TgMAPKL1 (MAPK-like protein), TgMAPKL2, and TgERK7. My project focused on answering the question of what roles TgMAPKs play in the cellular functions of Toxoplasma gondii, and whether those functions are dependent on the catalytic activity and/or other domains.
What does research mean to you?
Research to me meant being able to work collaboratively with faculty, graduate students, and my undergraduate peers towards a common goal. I always enjoyed conducting research at UTD and I found the Green Fellowship an interesting program in that it allowed for undergraduate students to do research full-time and take on their own project. In a unique way, we experienced the life of a graduate student and whether we wanted to pursue basic research as a future career.
Tell us about your journey.
When I was first accepted into the program, I was nervous about leaving UT Dallas and working in a completely new environment. The unknown of what was to come did scare me a little, but I was also excited to try something so different. I had always enjoyed research and was undecided as to a career path. As I progressed into the spring semester, I was excited about the research I was doing and was proud of my contributions to the project. I feel that the program made me more comfortable in embracing new ideas.